When modern media is used to brand a product, it routinely addresses the subject matter directly, trying to draw attention immediately to the product. The advertisements found in old newspapers sometimes achieved the same goal in quite different fashion, using unusual or outrageous lines in large print to trick the reader. The blaring lead demands attention, and is followed quickly with odd or unexpected segues to information on a product. » Continue Reading.
What you see here is one of the most recognizable trademarks ever, a logo that has been used by many companies around the world. The dog in the image is not fictional. His name was Nipper, and a few years after his death, Nipper’s owner sold a modified painting of his dog to a recording company. The rest is history, and part of that history includes a heretofore unknown North Country native.
From humble beginnings, he became famous for his wide-ranging knowledge of recording and his ability to invent. Perhaps most important of all, he traveled the world and was the first person to record the music of a number of countries, saving it for posterity. » Continue Reading.
With a nod to Dog Days of Summer, an event this coming Saturday at the Adirondack Museum (Blue Mountain Lake), here’s a look at a few North Country pooches that made headlines in the 1930s. Many true dog “tales” (technically, “tales” aren’t true, and these stories are, but I couldn’t resist) involve the saving of lives by barking during the early stages of house fires. » Continue Reading.
Water-skiing was invented in Minnesota in 1922, coinciding generally with the surging popularity of motorboats. Since that time, it has been enjoyed by natives and visitors across the Adirondacks. Another water sport, wakeboarding, is cited as originating around 1980. But eight years before the birth of water-skiing, a sport strongly reminiscent of wakeboarding took the nation’s watery playgrounds by storm.
With hundreds of lakes and thousands of summer visitors wealthy enough to own motorboats, the Adirondack region did much to popularize the new sport.
Aquaplaning is sometimes cited as beginning around 1920, but it was a common component of boat shows in the US a decade earlier. In 1909 and 1910, participants attempted to ride a toboggan or an ironing-board-shaped plank, usually about five feet long and two feet wide, towed behind a boat. The boards often resembled the average house door. » Continue Reading.
Many famous ships can be linked in one way or another to Plattsburgh on Lake Champlain in northern Clinton County. There was the Philadelphia under Benedict Arnold’s command in the Battle of Valcour, and the Saratoga under Thomas Macdonough, hero of the Battle of Plattsburgh. There were steamers, like the Vermont, the Chateaugay, and the Ticonderoga. And as noted here in the past, Plattsburgh also owns an unusual link to the largest seagoing vessel of its time, the Titanic.
But there is yet another tied not only to Plattsburgh, but to the entire Champlain Valley, and from Whitehall to Albany as well. And like the Titanic, its name became synonymous with disaster. » Continue Reading.
Charlotte Smith of St. Lawrence County was a women’s rights activist with few equals. From the 1870s through the turn of the century, she was among the most famous and visible women in America, battling endlessly for anything and everything that might improve the status of women. No matter what the issue―unemployment, unfair treatment in hiring, deadbeat dads, the plight of single mothers―Charlotte was on the front lines, fearlessly facing down politicians at all levels.
In the 1890s, she also staked out some positions that appeared difficult to defend, but Smith’s single-mindedness gave her the impetus to continue. The bane of women in America held her attention for years, but in modern times, it’s unlikely that any of us would guess its identity based on Charlotte’s description. » Continue Reading.
In the world of women’s rights, there has been great progress across many issues that are still being debated. A North Country native stands at the forefront of the ongoing battle, taking on a number of concerns: jobs for single mothers; equal pay for equal work; the negative effects of drugs and cigarettes on young women; the horrors of trafficking in women for sexual purposes; food labeling; the restriction of food additives; the rights to patented and copyrighted works; women’s ability to serve in the military; and the issues faced by families of soldiers serving overseas.
If you follow the news, you’ll recognize most of those topics from current or recent headlines. They are the very same issues that were current between 1880 and 1900, when St. Lawrence County’s Charlotte Smith was American’s groundbreaking and leading reformer in the fight for women’s rights. » Continue Reading.
The recent exploits of Nik Wallenda at Niagara Falls call to mind North Country folks who once performed daredevil stunts and amazing feats, some of them more than a century ago. One who secured his place in history was Robert Emmet Odlum, a St. Lawrence County native whose most famous effort earned him footnote status in the story of one of America’s most famous landmarks.
While Odlum’s origins (he was born August 31, 1851) have been reported as Washington, DC, and Memphis, Tennessee, he was born in St. Lawrence County, New York. That information is in stone, literally―Ogdensburg is the birthplace that is carved into the obelisk atop Odlum’s grave. (He was buried in Washington, which may account for some of the confusion.)
Robert’s entire life was linked to water, beginning with the St. Lawrence River, where it is said that he learned to swim as a very young child. That information comes from his mother, who wrote Robert’s life story after he died. » Continue Reading.
While I mostly write about North Country history in one form or another, I’ll digress this week, but only slightly: the history I’d like to mention is personal, and the impetus is yesterday, Father’s Day. I’ve never really had the opportunity to write about my dad, who at age 88 is still with us. He has changed, certainly, but the core man is still there, and I’m luckier than many folks who lost their dads and moms early in life. My mom is 90.
As you get older, you’ll often recognize parts of yourself or your behavior that came from one of your parents. It might be good or it might be bad, but it’s always an awakening to suddenly realize who we sound like and who we act like. It’s also an opportunity to change. One of my children once told me I yelled too much. That was so frustrating because the one thing that really got me fired-up when I was young was my dad’s yelling. I didn’t want my children to remember me that way, so I changed. » Continue Reading.
In a tragic story compounded further by a shocking turn of events, a North Country woman once buried her husband twice in less than thirty days. Admittedly, that seems impossible without some sort of extramarital shenanigans going on, but that wasn’t the case. In fact, there were actually three burials in the story within that short span of time, capping a series of highly unlikely occurrences. To complicate matters even further, the woman actually had only one husband.
Before reading further, if you like solving puzzles, read that paragraph again and try playing detective. How could all that be true? At this point, everyone should be sufficiently confused and anxious for an explanation. And here it is. » Continue Reading.
This is New York State Museum Week, highlighting some of the best of what our state has to offer. Among the finest in the North Country, and at a price that can’t be beat (free), is the Lyon Mountain Mining and Railroad Museum, housed in the former railroad depot building. This community project has grown into a remarkable facility dedicated to regional and town history. The focus, of course, is on the iron mining facility that operated in the town for a century, producing some of the finest iron ore on earth.
No matter what your expectations are, you’ll be amazed at the quantity and quality of the displays. To top it all off, there are friendly, helpful folks on hand anxious to share their knowledge of the town’s history, further enhancing the museum experience. » Continue Reading.
The ranks of those who love nature and history were badly diminished earlier this year with the loss of an old friend. I found out about it in terrible fashion a few days ago. The subject of my next book had been narrowed down to three possibilities. The one I was leaning towards was Clinton Prison at Dannemora. An old school friend had urged me several times to get to work on it, and at the top of my list of contacts that day was his name, Charlie Barney.
I began the day as usual with a brief scan of the headlines in a few online newspapers. After a quick look at the local obituaries, I would reach out to Charlie. I knew he would be a big help, and he’d be happy that I was finally doing it. » Continue Reading.
Slavery nearly destroyed this country. We now mark the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, which many consider to have been a battle over slavery. But in the big picture, the battle over slavery has been ongoing since this nation was formed. In our infancy, it was outlawed in some states but not in others. With great gall and to our utter embarrassment, we called ourselves the Land of the Free. In fact, when Francis Scott Key wrote those words in 1814, about half of the states allowed slavery.
There were still plenty of lynchings 150 years later when I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s. That time is now 50 years past, yet there’s still plenty of bigotry and racism to go around. Judging by where we stand today, it’s shameful to suggest that we’ve come far. More than two centuries, and this is the best we can do?
But many people have fought hard for equality, and they should be remembered. Among the stalwart anti-slavery activists of the mid-1800s was a North Country native, James Rood Doolittle. He was born on January 3, 1815, in Hampton, New York, on the shores of the Poultney River in the northeast corner of Washington County. » Continue Reading.
Few mothers as a group have seen more Mother’s Day celebrations than my own mother and her immediate ancestors. My mom turned 90 last September 5, an amazing milestone. Her mom, Mary Franklin Lagree, of hardy Churubusco farm stock (as they all were), lived to 96. Mary’s mom, Julia Toohey Franklin, was 93. And Mom’s paternal grandmother, Matilda Lagree, was 92.
Those four women collectively saw close to 300 Mothers Day celebrations. For good measure, I could include my mom’s Aunt Alice Silver (her father’s sister), who died in 2007 at 103, and was still active. » Continue Reading.
If you like horses (and who doesn’t?) and some funny grammatical errors, check out these two sentence segments from regional newspapers. From 1927: “Mounted on his favorite and favored horse wearing a white broad-brimmed hat … ; and from 1980: “Fans hurled confetti at third baseman George Brett, who was atop a horse wearing a grey cowboy hat.” Both excerpts contain misplaced modifiers: it’s a pretty safe bet that neither horse was wearing a hat.
But as silly as it sounds, it’s an idea that was actually once in vogue. About a century ago, many of northern New York’s horses were sporting the latest craze―hats for horses. » Continue Reading.